USC balances high expectations, FBI probe
Jordan McLaughlin, Chimezie Metu, Benny Boatwright and Elijah Stewart all returned for one of the most anticipated basketball seasons in USC history.
Before the Trojans got together for their first practice, controversy arrived when assistant Tony Bland was among those arrested during an FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting.
The 10th-ranked Trojans open the season with high expectations and an uncertain future if the FBI probe leads the NCAA to look into their program.
“We are just trying to keep focused, control what we can control,” said McLaughlin, a senior point guard who averaged 12.9 points and 5.5 assists last season. “Those are things we can’t worry about as much. As a leader and captain of this team, I rallied the guys together and talked to them about where we need to be this season and focusing on the right things.”
USC was picked to finish second in a preseason Pac-12 media poll behind Arizona, which also had an assistant coach arrested by the FBI.
“It has been tough because coach Bland is a part of the family still,” Boatwright said. “We love him, but it’s been tough.”
The Trojans return their top eight scorers from last season, led by Boatwright, who averaged 15.1 points per game. Metu, a 6-11 junior, averaged 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, and Stewart scored 12.3 points per game.
“Our core group of guys all decided together that we were going to come back,” Boatwright said. “I felt like it was best for me to come back and get stronger and be more efficient and develop as a player.”
The four Trojans who considered turning pro consulted with each other before returning.
“Every once in a while I asked Chimezie what he was thinking about doing and the same with Elijah and Benny,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not like I was recruiting them back, we wanted them to make the best decision for themselves. When me and Chimezie and Elijah were all coming back, I think that pretty much sold Benny on his decision.”
USC returns 98 percent of its scoring and 97 percent of its rebounding from last year as fifth-year coach Andy Enfield has a full 13 scholarships for the first time with the Trojans.
“We’re familiar with each other and know what spots we like on the court, so it is going to be fun,” Boatwright said. “You look at it from all angles and we’re pretty stacked. It’s that way in practice, we go at each other each and every day.”
Sophomore guard De’Anthony Milton is the other returning starter, averaging 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season. Reserves Shaqquan Aaron, Jonah Mathews and Nick Rakocevic all played at least 14 minutes per game last season.
The Trojans added point guard Derryck Thornton, a sophomore transfer from Duke, along with three freshmen.
“We have a job to do, and that’s to get ready for the season,” Enfield said. “Our players and staff are all clear about that. We don’t discuss anything but how to make our players and our program better and they are working like crazy to do that.”